Treasury Department regulations restricting the type of informational advertising that can be used for alcoholic beverages are "obsolete" and should be eliminated, a public interest law firm contends.
In remarks scheduled to be filed with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms today, the Washingtonbased Media Access Project (MAP) chides that division of the Treasury for continuing use of those rules, and for failure to involve eonsumer participation in proceedings dealing with those regulations.
Last January, BATF published a notice of intent to review the alcohol advertising rules and invited public comment, which will be accepted through next month.
"MAP appears in this proceeding because of its concern about the public's access to complete and accurate information regarding advertised consumer products," the filing, which was made available to The Washington Post, states.
"In the past," it continues, "the flow of truthful commercial information has been impeded by unnecessary BATF regulation; such regulations should be eliminated."
The MAP filing warns, however, that some guidelines are needed to set limits on certain types of advertising, but they should be "easily enforceable and reflect the needs of the consuming public."
Restrictions on the type of advertising that can be used for alcoholic beverages were first enacted in 1935. They bar comparative advertising in which the name of a competitor is used and further ban the use of taste tests in promotion, regardless of how well documented the tests are.
The rules were incorporated into the 1935 Federal Alcohol Administration Act, which sought to keep liquor advertising on a high plane, according to a BATF spokesman, and also to prevent seductive or sexual type advertising from being used for alcohol. Athletes were also banned from promoting alcoholic beverages.
The rules specifically banned advertising that implied disparagement of another product, something comparative advertising allegedly does.
"We believe these outmoded rulings are unsupportable in today's world," the MAP states. "Instead, under current BATF rulings, consumers are, if anything, more likely to be misled than might otherwise be the case."
For example, the group points out, existing BATF rules would allow claims that consumers prefer one product of unnamed others, but does not allow dissemination of the details of that claim, including the names of the competing products purportedly rejected.
"The net result," MAP contends, "is that the small amount of information the consumer does receive cannot be evaluated intelligently."
In a letter to Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal last year, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Michael Pertschuk contended that comparative advertising, if properly used, "can educate the public concerning consumer products and prices and strengthen the operation of the private marketplace without the need for regulatory intervention."